6 Ways You Might Win a Financial Aid Appeal

The Financial Aid Award Letter Isn't Always the Last Word

A good financial aid package often means the difference between paying for college and having to attend a second-choice school. Families that don’t want to rely heavily on the student loan option to fill the financial aid gap often look forward expectantly to the financial aid award package. While many are pleased with the outcome, some are devastated by the realization that they really can’t afford to attend a particular school.

The good news is that the financial aid award letter isn’t always the last word.

It is possible that you may have made a mistake on your FAFSA, or the college might have made a miscalculation in their award amount. In those cases, you need to talk directly to the financial aid office as quickly as possible and try to rectify the mistake. If one school’s package is substantially lower that what others have offered, you may be able to ask them to reconsider as well. Here are six other ways you might be able to win a financial aid appeal:

  1. Substantial Change in Income: The revision of the FAFSA availability deadline to October necessitated a change in the way income figures are reported. While the FAFSA previously relied on the prior year’s income tax returns, the new application utilizes prior-prior year returns. While this is a great convenience in that families don’t have to rush to file income taxes and the FAFSA, it also means that there can be a great disparity in the income that was reported and the actual results for a specific year. If your family suffered a medical emergency, job loss or change, or the loss of a primary breadwinner, it may be possible to ask the financial aid office to reconsider its offer.
  1. Impact of Divorce: When parents of a college student separate or divorce, it can have a substantial impact on the amount of financial aid awarded. There are changes in household income, alimony and child support agreements which must be taken into consideration, living arrangements which determine who the custodial parent is, and the possible introduction of a step-parent’s income or step-siblings into the equation.
  1. One Time Financial Events: Sometimes there is an inflow of money into a family’s coffers that is out of the ordinary. There may be an inheritance, sale of stocks, a one-time salary bonus, or the sale of a home or property that nets a substantial gain. When this occurs during the year under consideration for financial aid, it can present a skewed vision of the family’s finances. Explain to the financial aid office any unusual increases in income that will not be replicated in following years.
  2. Caring for Other Family Members: In today’s mixed society, we often take on financial and social responsibility for members of our extended family. If your family is caring for an aged parent, or a relative with physical or mental disabilities, it can add up to a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. This may not show up on your reported income figures, but it does impact your ability to fully cover college costs.
  3. Natural Disasters: We frequently see reports of natural disasters on the news, and wonder how those families manage to rebuild their lives. If it happens to you, you may be overwhelmed by dealing with insurance companies, replacing lost belongings, and even finding a new place to live. Expenses may even increase as you live in temporary housing while still paying a mortgage on your destroyed property.
  1. Family Education Costs: It matters how many students are in college, and even if younger siblings attend a private elementary or secondary school. There may also be cause for appeal if a parent goes back to school, or is still repaying student loans of their own.

You can have an initial conversation via phone, but always be prepared to back up your request in writing. Be aware that you will have to supply plenty of documentation, so get that paperwork together now. You may not win the appeal, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. If you really want to attend a certain college, it is worth the effort to make the financial side of the equation work.